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Reasonably good job, Mr Prime Minister

The Sonia, Manmohan and Rahul trinity holds the government together in UPA II even as the number of PM Manmohan Singh's critics has gone up, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Jun 06, 2010 01:08 IST
Khushwant Singh

At the end of the first year of the re-elected UPA government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spelt out its achievements and failures at his first meeting with the Press in his second term with usual self-confidence. The number of his critics has gone up. Besides belittling his achievements, as was expected from leaders of the BJP and Communists, there were neutral observers notably an editorial in The Hindu which castigated him for his government’s short-comings. Their general complaint was that after its spectacular performance during the first tenure, the government has become content to sit on its laurels. Promises to eliminate poverty and hunger remain unfulfilled; prices of essential commodities continue to go up, corruption hasn’t been put down with iron hands.

The general trend of questions put to him were loaded with innuendos that he was getting too old and unable to hold his team of Cabinet ministers together; had misunderstandings with Mrs Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress Party and it was time he included Rahul Gandhi in his team or let him take over as Prime Minister. Singh kept his cool and was as unflappable as ever. He rubbished stories of misunderstandings with Sonia Gandhi as irresponsible gossip. In fact, he meets her at least once a week, if not more often to discuss the country’s problems. He said emphatically that he had more work to do and had no intention to retire. To this I add: Rahul Gandhi has more important work on hand than spend his time clearing files and running a Ministry in the government. It can be maintained that if the Congress Party is back in power, it is primarily due to Rahul Gandhi’s successful efforts to put new life in it by organising cadres of dedicated workers. Not one of the Opposition parties has anyone like him to ensure their longevity. Why the Opposition is so keen to see him in the government is to be able to revive the bogey of dynastic rule and break up the trinity of Sonia, Manmohan and Rahul that is managing to hold the government together. But for the cohesiveness with which the trinity has maintained throughout, many present-day members of the Congress Party would not have been in the Lok Sabha. I have little doubt that in the months to come Rahul Gandhi will weed out aspirants for Parliamentary membership if they have the slightest taint of corruption or involvement in crimes. There should be no apprehension about its future — it is rosy. With characteristic modesty Manmohan exclaimed: “I have done a reasonably good job; I could have done better.”

Voice of Nepal

Manjushri Thapa’s father was Nepal Ambassador in Delhi for many years. It was a good-looking family with western sophistication. Manjushri lived in Kathmandu working for a Nepali journal and also wrote for Indian and foreign journals. She was prolific: writing articles, books of information about her country, short stories and novels. Though her father represented the King of Nepal in India, she paid heed to the Maoists’ demand to abolish monarchy and establish a democratic government. As a good journalist, she remained objective in her reportage. Today she is recognised round the world as the authentic voice of Nepal. Last week her novel Seasons of Flight (Penguin) was launched in Kathmandu.

The story is about a Nepali girl migrating to the United States to make a better living. She was lucky to win a lottery ticket, which entitled her to American citizenship. She had to bribe her own countrymen in Nepal and America to have her emigration papers cleared. Having done that she hoped to start a new life in the States. People asked her “where are you from?” She replied: “Nepal”. They had not heard of it. She elucidated: “Himalayas, Everest, Sherpas.” Some got a rough idea about her coming from a very distant country. She gave up and said: “I am from India.”

“What tribe?” They asked thinking she was American Red Indian.” This makes her introductory first chapter: crisp, gently humourous and a joy to read.

After working as a kitchen maid and a waitress in an Indian restaurant she landed a decent job as care-taker to a kind, elderly gentle woman who lived above a beach in Los Angeles. She met a recently divorced American man with a six-year-old daughter. They hit off and she moved in with him. There followed a lot of erotic scenes of them having sex. They fell in love. After a while, doubts beset her mind. She developed a sense of frustration and returned to Nepal during vacation. Her widower father had aged, her sister, a Maoist, was cold towards her. She returned to Los Angeles and was with her sick employer till she died. Once again she was at a loose end. She spent her time watching birds and marine life on the beach. She befriended groups of nature lovers. Their current obsession was a species of butterflies known as E1 Segund Blues. Like other butterflies they have a very short span of life. Furthermore this species is threatened with extinction. Aren’t we all? She ran into her ex-lover who was eager to revive their relationship. She was not sure whether or not to accept his offer. Every relationship is transient, why put all your eggs in one basket and make life-long commitments.

Seasons of Flight is a well-crafted novel and beautifully written.

A Punjabi bride’s prayer

Rabaa, yaa tay sass changi hovey, nahi-taan photo tangi hovey!

(Lord, either give me a kind mother-in-law, If not, let me see her picture hung on the wall.)

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey)